A nice tea cup adds an element of enjoyment to any tea break. And each tea cup has its own personality and “feel.” Perhaps that’s why tea lovers like to have a selection of tea cups on hand. There is a perfect tea cup for every occasion.

We can make two broad categories of tea cups – with handles and without handles. Some may also classify mugs as tea cups, but let’s not be vulgar – mugs are for coffee.

No – tea is a delicate drink and requires delicate tea cups. The wide range of floral designs speaks of the feminine nature of tea and tea cups, but there are also many tea cups that appeal to the masculine sensibilities – clean lines, somber colors, and solid feel.

Asian Tea Cups

Tea cups without handles are the traditional style of Asian tea cups. When tea was first introduced to Europe it was served in Japanese style handle-less tea cups.

Asian tea cups come in various sizes. The smallest are used for oolong tea – big enough for one gulp. These small tea cups allow the tea to cool off quickly. Oolong tea is usually served continuously so as soon as you finish one cup your host will refill it.

Large handle-less cups are used for green tea. Tea made during the Japanese tea ceremony is served in tea bowls that can be held in both hands. For informal tea drinking another type of tea cup called a Yunomi is used. Unlike the tea bowl, the yunomi is higher than it is wide, and is usually made of a ceramic material.

Of special mention when talking about Asian tea cups is the Gaiwan. This utensil is a covered bowl which is used both to brew and drink the tea. It originates in China and is most often used for green or white tea.

Western Tea Cups

Western-style tea cups are usually available in a cup and saucer set. Their handles are usually quite small and must be grasped with the thumb and one or two fingers. The best tea cups are made of porcelain but earthenware tea cups are also popular.

Some people like to collect tea cups. Memorial tea cups are available which commemorate a special event or place.

Tea sets which have matching cups, pots, sugar bowls and creamers are a prerequisite for afternoon tea – a formal tea party popular in many countries. Tea sets with matching tea cups are be made entirely of porcelain or bone china, but there are also sterling silver (or silver plate) sets in which the tea cups are of a different design from the rest of the set.